It comes as a bit of a surprise that one of the year's biggest Nollywood success stories and the subject of this edition of Nollywood Premiere is actually a Ghanaian production. Faithful viewers of Nigerian videos should have heard about, if not seen, "Beyonce The President's Daughter" by now--and if you haven't, consider yourself out of the loop when it comes to African popular cinema. A smash hit produced by Ghana's up-and-coming Venus Productions studio, "Beyonce" has spawned a series of sequels that have made international stars out of lead actors Van Vicker (Raj), Nadia Buari (Beyonce), and Jackie Agyeman (Ciara).
The story revolves around regrettably named archrivals Beyonce and Ciara, both battling for the affections of the handsome Raj Johnson. Once the viewer suspends disbelief enough to ignore the marketing ploy of using pop singers' names for the two lead roles, the plot is revealed as a standard retread of love across class lines. After she saves him from an armed assault as the movie begins, Raj is obsessed with locating his mysterious savior named Ciara. As soon as he does, he announces that he is in love with Ciara (literally 26 minutes into the movie and following their first full conversation), which sets the movie's plot into bizarre motion.
What follows is the sort of whirlwind romance that viewers have come to expect from Nollywood love stories. The love fest can only last so long however, and an expected interruption comes when Raj meets the title character, a stereotypically spoiled rich girl who stops at nothing in her efforts to buy Raj's affections. Buari delivers the movie's best performance as the determined man-hunter who won't take no for an answer, but her acting is hamstrung with an outlandish script.
The dialogue is especially inane, even by Nollywood standards. Whenever Beyonce and her coterie of fellow politicians' children are onscreen, they chant "Be-Be-Beyonce!" and delve into incoherent conversations about their political ambitions, shopping sprees, idle gossip, and other distractions that do nothing to further the story. Equally painful is the fact that some of the actors insist on imitating American accents, a long-criticized affliction of Nigerian actors. This issue appears to be even more pronounced in 'Beyonce', as Raj's right-hand man Bobby proves over and over again. Why characters that are presented as fully Ghanaian need to speak in overwrought urban American slang is not clear.
'Beyonce' presents a picture of Ghanaian society that Nollywood viewers would easily recognize from their own beloved melodramas. There are subtle issues, particularly about the question of complexion, that differentiate "Beyonce" from others in the genre and make the movie a little more complex than is immediately apparent.
While Beyonce and Raj appear to be of biracial heritage, Ciara, a working-class singer repeatedly identified as a 'club girl' (code for a woman of easy virtue) is a dark-skinned, self-described orphan with prominently African features and a statuesque physique. The bizarre but largely-unspoken moral of the tale seems to contrast Ciara's less-privileged background and her notably African skin tone with Raj and Beyonce, who are wealthy and exotically-complexioned. Watchers of Latin American telenovela soap operas and Bollywood musicals may be familiar with such complexion-based hierarchies, but it is an unusual focal point for West African movies.
Despite the shortcomings of some actors and the script, the movie's plot has enough twists and turns to keep viewers engaged, and the undeniably attractive cast provides enough eye-candy to get through the less-enthralling moments. The real appeal of the movie lies in its unusual setting--while the nondescript city setting (presumably Accra) can just as easily be substituted by Lagos, Abuja, or Enugu, there is something fresh and different about the movie's Ghanaian scenery and soundtrack. Enjoy 'Beyonce' for the accents and the extravagant soap-operatic antics, but don't expect something too different from the average Geneive Nnaji and Ramsey Nouah production. For Ghana's growing video melodrama industry and fans of Nollywood melodrama, that's not a bad thing at all.
'Beyonce: The President's Daughter' is available on DVD from African video vendors everywhere.